HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Horry County residents are encouraging others to be cautious after they contracted with a man advertising on Facebook Marketplace.
Back in December, Ricky Horne needed new HVAC units for his home on Sandy Island. When his regular heating and cooling company was busy, he found Michael Blackwood online.
Horne said Blackwood looked legitimate and the first unit’s installation went well. However, when he went to purchase a second unit things didn’t go as smoothly.
“I gave him the money for that unit, just assuming that he would fulfill it. And that’s what he kept saying, ‘I’ll make it right and I’ll make it right.’ But three weeks later it’s not right,” Horne said.
Horry County resident Halaina Cauble found herself in a similar situation just this month.
She found Blackwood advertising mini splits at a good price. She paid him $100 over Paypal to start the job and days later he asked her to send $1,700.
Cauble refused to send that much and ended up paying in person. She said the units turned out to be the incorrect size and she started getting the run-around from him.
“He kept on promising he was going to be by and he would not show up,” Cauble said. “He gave me so many excuses, you know, I'm running late, I'm at a job site, my car broke down, I'm not feeling well. I mean it was just one excuse after the other.”
She said she finally set a deadline and had enough.
Cauble filed a police report and posted on social media about her experience.
“I got a lot of help from the community. They were willing to forward and share my message and the word got out there quickly,” Cauble said.
She said she was soon flooded with messages and comments from people all saying a similar thing happened to them.
Horry County police reports also support similar accounts of people who worked with Blackwood.
The Horry County Sheriff’s Office arrested Blackwood in July and August for breach of trust with fraudulent intent charges and for obtaining a signature or property under false pretenses. He pleaded guilty to those criminal charges.
Blackwood was arrested again on breach of trust charges earlier this month and was in jail just last week.
One police report stated a victim’s A/C system caught on fire after Blackwood was hired to fix it. After paying money to have it fixed, the report stated Blackwood stopped answering his phone.
Social media posts warning other consumers stem back to March 2019.
Blackwood denied ever intending to not finish a job. He said Cauble changed up the job on him multiple times and her story is inaccurate.
“I am not at fault here and have nothing else to say someone who would be trying to scam someone isn’t going to purchase the equipment with her and show up both scheduled days to do the install it just makes no sense,” Blackwood said in a written statement to WMBF News.
Cauble said the size of the units were changed because Blackwood purchased the wrong size since he never measured for them.
As for Horne, Blackwood said he is still working to resolve their situation. Horne, however, said he hasn’t heard from Blackwood in a while and still hasn’t seen his second unit.
Blackwood said the reason he pleaded guilty to the 2019 charges was because a former worker took his phone out of state in the summer and he couldn’t communicate with clients. He added that he paid all those customers back. However, one woman said her mother is still waiting for money from him after filing charges in the summer.
In addition, Blackwood said he deals with hundreds of customers and “he can’t please everyone.”
Individuals and businesses who install HVAC systems are required to have a state license in South Carolina. Horry County also requires a business license for this service. Blackwood does not have a license on file for either. He claims he doesn’t need one for installing mini-switch systems and did send WMBF a copy of his EPA Technician certification.
Representatives from other HVAC companies said a state license is needed.
Lt. Mark Bonner handles property crimes for the Horry County Police Department. He said Facebook Marketplace can complicate holding individuals accountable.
“If you're dealing with somebody outside of Horry County, especially if you're dealing with some money outside the state of South Carolina, you're actually moving the jurisdiction for police officers to be able to help you with any enforcement actions later,” he said.
Bonner said extensive research beforehand is necessary. That means checking reviews, asking for references, checking BBB ratings, and searching the Horry County Public Index for prior criminal and civil cases.
When it comes to HVAC units, Bonner said if a price is too good to be true, it probably is.
“When you're dealing with HVAC, you're dealing with licensed people, bonded insurance. If they're not able to provide any of that information, if you're not able to define that information through consumer websites, you don't want to go with that person,” said Bonner.
Bonner also said if individuals are asking for money up front that should be a red flag. Even after hiring someone, he suggests starting a paper trail.
“When you establish that contract, you want to set some dates, so when they start missing well established dates, then that'll help you” Bonner said. “If they just say, ‘Hey, I'll be back in a couple of weeks,’ you're setting yourself up to be in trouble.”
For Cauble, it’s no longer about the money.
“It's about the principle and keeping our community safe,” Cauble said.
Resources you can use:
Horry County Public Index: Search individuals and businesses by names for past civil cases and criminal charges.
The Better Business Bureau: Search businesses in the area to find past customers reviews and ratings.